Sexual misconduct by clergy and church workers
• Key point. A minor's "consent" to a sexual relationship with a youth pastor is no defense to liability.
• Key point. Churches may be liable for a pastor's sexual misconduct on the basis of a breach of a fiduciary duty, but only if a fiduciary relationship exists between the victim and church.
• Key point. Churches and denominational agencies cannot be sued by victims of sexual misconduct as a result their alleged failure to abide by their internal rules and policies with respect to the discipline of ministers.
A Colorado court addressed the liability of a church and denominational agency for a sexual relationship between a youth pastor and a girl in his youth group. A 12—year—old girl (the "victim") was encouraged by her youth pastor to discuss with him any problems she had. Though reluctant at first, she eventually began counseling with him and confided in him about her abusive father, her distant mother, and her thoughts of suicide. The youth pastor, then 28 years old and married, told the victim about his own personal problems, including his marital difficulties. Over the next two years, hugs during counseling sessions led to other increasingly intimate physical touching. Shortly after the victim turned 14, the youth pastor convinced her to submit to a sexual relationship with him. According to the victim, the youth pastor told her that she was as bad as she believed when she came to him for counseling but that he loved her despite her faults; that their sexual relationship was God's will; and that the relationship was proper in the eyes of God because they were "spiritually husband and wife." The sexual relationship lasted 4 years. Sexual encounters occurred on church youth trips, in the youth pastor's car, in the church building, and in the victim's home when her parents were out of town. The youth pastor warned the victim that if she ever revealed their relationship, she would "go to hell," that she would be punished for having seduced a minister, and that he would divulge everything she had ever told him about her personal life. Most of the sexual conduct, which was frequent and increasingly degrading for the victim, occurred before she turned 18. The victim finally managed to end the relationship the summer before she left for college. The emotional and physical repercussions she had been experiencing nevertheless continued. After 2 years of therapy, she confronted the youth pastor, hoping he would acknowledge the harm he had caused her. He instead told her he saw nothing wrong with what they had done. She then called and wrote to denominational officials about the relationship, stating she felt she had a moral obligation to see that the same thing did not happen to others. She asked that the denomination keep the information as confidential as possible because she had not yet revealed the relationship to her parents or other members of the congregation.